and the winner is…

Well, not me, but amazingly the David Shepherd Foundation have seen fit to give an award to my piece of biro art “New Forest Dawn”. The foundation runs an annual Wildlife Artist of the Year award (follow the link to see the real winner and my category win) based in the Mall Galleries in London. I won the Earth’s Wild Beauty category at the exhibition associated with the award. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky and it was a wonderful moment when I found out!

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Sunny Swanwick

Swanwick

It may have been cold, but it was well worth the trip out to Swanwick to have a walk along the River Hamble. Taking in the atmosphere and inspiration was wonderful. Whether or not this will provide inspiration for any paintings is another question, but it’s always worth getting out there and it really was beautiful and good for the soul.

Black-headed Gull

Redshank?

I think this and the next one may be Redshanks, but what with it being so dark it was difficult to tell!!

Redshank?

Curlew

The light ended up so bad it produced some interesting photos, but some created good atmospheres.

It’s a wonderful walk and if you’re local, or find yourself in the area, please give it a try. There’s a car park behind The Old Ship pub (see map below) and you just follow the path with the river on your right.

Swanwick Map

 

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The End

Our Costa Rican art adventure is over. The biros are all used up, I’ve run out of white oil paint and, most importantly, there’s no canvas left.

I guess the question is: Has it done any good?

As far as the art goes, I feel the impact has been huge, but maybe you should be the judge. The image above shows the 9 artworks I’ve completed whilst out here, laid out, ready to be packed away for the journey home.

Something has definitely changed between me and art; the time I take to complete works has dropped significantly, and I think the outcome is much better as a result. I feel much freer to focus on the atmosphere I want to create rather than the detail of what I’m painting. As a result, I’m really looking forward to getting home and seeing where this takes me, particularly on larger canvases!

Wrecked HouseWe also came out here to immerse ourselves in a different culture and experience the incredible wildlife that lives here.

As ever, culture is a complex issue, and not one that’s easy to talk about. You have to acknowledge that any statement made will be hugely reductive and generic, but here goes:

Costa Rica is renowned for its focus on the environment, and that appears to be very true, people seem to respect wildlife more, overall, than in our own country and the country decided to stand down its armed forces in order to focus on eco-tourism. Having said that, recycling isn’t (or doesn’t appear to be) done very much at all, and plastic is very prevalent.

They’re a deeply religious country, with 92% identifying as belonging to a religion, 70% catholic. Family is clearly extremely important, but I guess that’s true in most places, although this isn’t necessarily true in some western cultures. We’ve regularly seen large extended family groups on days out.

I struggle to think of a more laid back country, there’s a real sense of it wherever you go. It even has it’s own phrase “Tico time”, which specifically refers to the lack of timeliness in the country, a symptom of the laid back way of life here. Even in the most touristy areas, and Costa Rica has an economy that relies on tourism, so there are plenty, there is very little pressure. We’ve walked through tourist centres with no one hassling us for anything. That, on it’s own, feels very special.

The wildlife is truly extraordinary, it seems so close and part of everyday life. The best example of this is the place we are currently staying in. It’s not in pristine habitat, like our place in Manual Antonio, so we haven’t seen anywhere near the same amount or variety of wildlife. However, it’s the nesting season here and by the last count we have at least 6 species of bird nesting very close by, and we’ve been able to watch birds collecting nesting material and building nests. Something you usually have to work quite hard to do in the UK.

Obviously, all this has some down sides, we have geckos and some very BIG insects living with us, and the odd scorpion and monitor lizard visited us in the house. Then there’s the heat. Life loves heat, so if you want to see lots of life you need to go somewhere hot. I just wish that I loved the heat as much as every other form of life seems to. I think some of my Scottish genes mean that I’m just not designed for it. My feet are swollen and sleep has been a bit of an issue. But I really can’t moan, look at where we are!

In short, we’re extremely pleased we’ve done this, as it has taught us a lot, about many, many things. It’ll be a long time before we do anything like it again, but I, for one, really hope we get the chance.

 

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Trip to the Hippy Capital of Costa Rica

Montezuma! We decided to have a little holiday. No, the cheek isn’t lost on me. We’ve been in Costa Rica for over 7 weeks and I’ve got the audacity to talk about having a little holiday!?

We’ve just returned from a trip across to Nicoya peninsula, and what a trip it was. It didn’t really start well though. We were trying to save money, so caught the bus up to Puntarenas, where (after a 2 hour wait) we caught a ferry across to the peninsular, to then have an extended bus journey down to Montezuma. All in all, over 7 hours journey time. Phew!

Once we were there though, it was magical. A small village, that although full of tourists, had wonderful character and really is small, just 10 minutes walk and you’re at the edge of it.

The beaches and local river were wonderful, but I’ll let the photos tell you all about that.

On the way back, we decided to take a shortcut, via speed boat. Home in 2 hours. Not only that, but we saw dolphins and leaping rays. Truly stunning.

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Art Disasters and How to Survive Them

The Bic biro has been a good friend to me. We’ve been working together for a couple of years now, and I’ve never been let down. I’ve tried a multitude of other, fancier, pens. These pretenders promised better looks, upmarket specifications, and generally bigger and better things. However, none came close to the reliability, consistency and cost effectiveness of the Bic. In short, I’ve formed a bit of a special relationship with these wonderful pens. Sounds odd, I know, but there it is.

However, I’ve just had my first complete Bic failure.

It all started so well. The first biro work was of the wonderful, ridiculously small, pygmy owl. It was looking good, I was really enjoying using biro again and after the first day, I was well over half way. The following morning, I was full of optimism and excitement to get back to it. When I started though, it quickly became obvious that the pen was now showing as a completely different colour! The work I’d done the day before had a brown tint and the work I was doing now was blueish. I had come across this once before, but the difference was barely noticeable and actually worked well with the composition.

The difference this time was huge.

Don’t panic, I thought. Finish it off and you can then go back over the biro with a wash of diluted white oil paint, which should unify the colour.

This was the final outcome after doing just that. The photo was taken immediately after finishing.

If you look closely you can see a subtle difference in colour between the work in the bottom right and the rest of the piece. However, I thought, this would be easily fixed after everything was dry.

So, the next morning, I was again hopeful. When I looked at the piece though, most of it had turned a horrid, dirty, yellow colour. Yellow!?!?? Where did that come from?!

I can only think that the oil paint had reacted with the biro in the first place as it dried, changing the nature of the ink, turning it the brownish colour I saw on the second day. When I then added extra oil paint, with white spirit, it changed it all again, turning it into an awful yellow mush. A total failure. I’ll just have to work on chalking it up to experience and starting all over again.

To be fair, it wasn’t really the fault of Bic. It’s just that I now know the biro, and its ways, better than I did before.

In short, we’re still friends.

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New Place, New Views, New Wildlife

We’ve moved to our new painting location, which is north of Jaco, but still on the west coast of Costa Rica.

Everything feels very different, we don’t see as much wildlife, but we’re still seeing lots. There are at least 4 species of birds nesting very close. We’ve never been able to view birds as closely as we have here. In some cases only 2 feet away! We’ve also seen Scarlet Macaws every single day we’ve been here. Sometimes a long way away, but we’ve still seen them!

What’s so charming is that they’re virtually always in mating pairs. You do occasionally see a group of three, but I can only assume that it’s a juvenile with it’s parents. Even rarer is the odd Macaw on its own. So, it’s either a youngster waiting to pair up, or an older bird whose partner has died. Don’t worry though, although they are monogamous, they will pair up again if required.

The small, but beautiful Inca Dove

Another favourite of mine is the small, but beautifully formed Inca Dove. They’re about a third of the size of doves and pigeons back home,  and are blessed with the most beautiful call. The  2 above are definitely pairing off.

The beach here is much closer, but in all honesty, not as beautiful as the one in Manuel Antonio. Not that we’re complaining, when you get to see the views below!

A spot of sunset fishing

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Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea

 

Jungle BeachWe finally made it to Manuel Antonio National Park and for once, the main story wasn’t about the wildlife. This time, the star of the show was the sheer beauty of the place. It’s not that we didn’t see lots of wildlife, it’s just that the views and general feel of the place were incredible.

Satellite View

As you can see from the google satellite image, it includes a peninsular known as Punta Catedral (Cathedral Point) a name that must have a story behind it, but I can’t find anything on it at all! It’s connected to the mainland by an isthmus that contains 2 stunning beaches, although these get crowded pretty quickly!

We arrived at 7am and, having already bought tickets (thanks to Carol’s forward planning!), we avoided the queue that had already formed at the ticket desk. Once we made it through the bag checks (to make sure we didn’t have any food for the animals, or more accurately that the capuchins could steal!) we headed straight for the peninsular, lingering to enjoy the stunning beaches and scenery.

It was hot, sweaty work (we covered 12 miles in total), but well worth it!

I think I should probably let the views do the rest of the talking. As ever the photographs really don’t do it justice, but they give the general idea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Wondrous Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet MacawYesterday, we were fortunate enough to get to visit the Gaia Nature Reserve. It’s the hotels very own reserve and one they use for the protection of many species. Not least, the Scarlet Macaw.

This is a bird that I’ve wanted to see since we arrived in Costa Rica. Up until yesterday, we’d caught 2 or 3 glimpses of them, which entailed a few seconds of brilliant scarlet before they disappeared! We heard from a local bar that Gaia Hotel was the place to go to see macaws, although we weren’t really sure why, our Spanish is really, really poor! A bit of research told us that the hotel run a reintroduction program for these incredible birds.

Gaia Hotel and Reserve
Gaia hotel, set amongst rainforest.

Upon visiting the hotel, we also discovered they don’t usually (at least not at this time of year) allow non-guests to visit. What a shame, so near, yet so far! However, after explaining that I was an artist, who really wanted to paint Scarlet Macaws, they very kindly allowed us to enter, and I’m so pleased they did. The hotel runs a breeding and rehabilitation program and they have, so far, released 40 birds into the wild.

It doesn’t stop there though, the reason for the birds decline is far more complicated than a simple matter of numbers. They are also working to reintroduce the right plants and trees, to create the right habitat, supplying the birds with both nesting sites and food.

Scarlet Macaw

Once we entered the reserve, we were shown to a viewing platform, where about 10 scarlet macaws were putting on a show for us. They clearly have a huge amount of character, you could tell from the interactions they were having with each other and from their interest in us. Although naturally curious birds, they’re discouraged from interacting with people too much for their future safety.

Scarlet Macaw

All you have to do is look in their eyes to see the intelligence there.

There is one possible issue, if you happen to have a group living close to you. They make an incredible noise! I’ve always pitied people who live close to a group of rooks in the UK, but they have nothing on these macaws!!

Sunset
Watching the sunset with a cocktail

I can’t speak highly enough of the hotel, or it’s program: They don’t earn a penny from the birds, the tours are free and they don’t sell any discarded feathers, for fear of encouraging exploitation. When you add onto all of that, a wonderful 5 star hotel experience (we stopped off for a cocktail and bite to eat whilst watching the sunset) then you have a truly unique experience, that I very strongly recommend.

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